Aberdeen City Council’s agency spend on children’s social work has nearly trebled in just three years.
Shock new figures obtained by the Press and Journal reveal the council paid out £374,214 on hiring temporary staff in 2015/16.
But by last year, this figure had almost trebled, to £921,615.
The authority stressed the expenditure does not necessarily just include social workers, but could also include other departments such as administration.
But experts have warned the increase is indicative of a “vicious cycle” where short-staffed councils are turning to agencies.
This then adds further strain to overworked social workers, who are then more likely to leave for private firms.
However, last year the council confirmed it hired 17 of these types of staff to work with children.
During the same period, Orkney spent £87,178 on social workers, Moray paid out £81,633 and Shetland paid out £7,217.
Aberdeenshire Council did not hire any agency workers over the course of the same five year period.
Highland Council did not respond to the Press and Journal’s request.
Meanwhile, neighbouring Dundee City could not provide figures for every year but spent £159,000 last year.
Professor Ray Jones, a former director of children’s services and an emeritus professor at London’s Kingston University, said the spending was part of a worrying cycle which had led to more and more social workers leaving for private work.
He said: “What’s happening is that, despite the Scottish Government’s best efforts to buck the trend and protect public services, it’s very difficult to do that in the context of a UK Government that’s continuing to pursue a policy of austerity.
“This means that social workers are under increasing pressure for a number of reasons, firstly because people are becoming poorer and that has an impact on how well they are able to look after their children, which creates more work.
“As the social worker workforce becomes under more pressure it’s difficult to recruit and retain and also staff are now choosing to go and work with private agencies who will pay them a little more.”
And Prof Jones – whose book In Whose Interest? on the privatisation of child protection and social work, was published in December – said it was the private firms that were reaping the rewards.
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“These agencies are making significant sum of money because it is becoming so difficult to recruit and retain in the public sector, it’s a vicious cycle,” he added.
“And, at the end of the day, you are getting a poorer service because the workforce is chopping and changing, social workers don’t know the families and the families themselves are less trusting because of that – there’s no time to build a relationship.”
An Aberdeen City Council spokeswoman said: “The spend on agency staff is to cover ‘hard to fill’ critical posts to ensure the safety and wellbeing of children and young people.
“It reflects the challenges of recruiting to these posts. The level of spend has reduced in the past year from the previous year.
“We are exploring a range of initiatives to address this challenge including working with RGU.”